Our night in the jungle!!

Trip Start Mar 03, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Cambodia  , Kaôh Kŏng,
Monday, March 19, 2012

We had spent just over a week on Koh Sdach, and as much as we loved it, we only had a month in Cambodia so it was time to move on. Sami spoke to a friend who recommended we visit a trekking conservation area in the Koh Kong province called Chi Phat.  One of my ambitions on this journey was to spend a night in the jungle and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

I must admit however, I was a little nervous about undertaking this part of our travels under the guidance of Sami.  We only had a rough idea where we were going, how we would get there, and even if anything would be there when we arrived. I like to plan everything to a T; Sami plans nothing and rolls with the punches.  I was clearly out of my comfort zone but trusted him – he had done us good so far!

Sami, Leyla and I packed our bags, said bye to our friends, and boarded the crazy speed boat that skimmed us across the sea back to mainland.  Fortunately, our bus was there waiting for us when we arrived.  Unfortunately, the mini-bus appeared to be full.  I say 'appeared' because that was what my ignorant, health and safety aware, first impression – the Cambodia’s clearly thought otherwise.

The driver directed us to sit in certain places so the most stuff could be crammed on board.  For some reason this meant us all sitting separately around the bus.  The only good thing was that I was sat next to a window.  Everything else was a little inconvenient.  Rice bags under my feet, someone being sick behind me, a slim Cambodian farmer practically sat on my knee and a million other people on board.  But hey, when you are paying $3 and are where very few backpackers ever tread, all the uncomfortable-ness is worth it.  In fact, it even makes the trip more of an event and more of an adventure.

Last time we did this journey we did it with just over 20 people on the bus.  This time we hit a new record of 30 people and a couple of chickens!  To our utter disbelief, despite the bus being full to the rafters, the driver kept stopping and beeping his horn so as to attract more people to pick up.  Each time we saw people we preyed they didn’t want to get on.

We spent around 3 hours with our new friends travelling along the dusty, part built, Chinese funded, motorway.  We shared our snacks with the local kids and despite the cramped conditions, had a fun time travelling with the locals.

The bus driver kicked us out at Andoung Tuek so we could make our own way to Chi Pat.  We had the choice of paying $5 each for a 30minute motorbike ride or we could get the boat which would cost a total of $22 and take 2 hours 30 min.  The river up to Chi Pat looked beautiful and the boat we could see was an amazing long-tail boat with a nice canopy over the top.  We were in no rush so we decided on the scenic route.

We found a man under the bridge and arranged the boat ride.  The man ran off towards the long-tail boat but to our surprise ran straight past it.  He ran round the back of a little hut and pushed out a crappy little boat that looked barely sea-worthy.  The beautiful boat we had seen was for display purposes only.

We clambered on board and headed up stream.  It was an amazing ride as we followed the meandering path of the river that cut through the jungle.  It felt like a scene from a David Attenborough wildlife program.

After an hour in the midday sun we started to cook.  Sami and Leyla pulled a large mat over their heads to make a makeshift sun cover.  No sooner had they done so when the sky turned black and a tropical storm descended upon us. 
Now the rain out in Asia isn't like it is in the UK.  In England the weather spits and spats for 12 hours and is just generally miserable.  In Asia the weather makes its mind up.   It absolutely smashes it down for 20 minutes or so and then stops.  Normally, I absolutely love being outside in the Asian rain as it’s such a great event!  However, when you are squashed under a tiny mat, on a tiny boat, on a massive river, in the middle of a jungle, it’s a little different.   
Despite a few unnerving moments when I thought we were going to tip over, we arrived at Chi Phat in good order.  Chi Phat is a community-based ecotourism thing that aims to support the natural environment and create jobs for villagers.  There is one main centre through which treks and other excursions can be arranged - http://www.ecoadventurecambodia.com.  

After much deliberation, we arranged a 2 day, 1 night trek into the jungle.  All in all it cost $190 for all 3 of us, including 3 nights accommodation, 2 rangers, 3 meals a day, all our equipment, and the motorbike ride back to Andoung Tuek - a bargain!
We were all very excited for our first day trekking.  We left the village and set off walking across agricultural land.  The heat of the sun was relentless and my little angel was really struggling with the heat.  We were all quite relieved when we made it to the fringe of the jungle as it gave us shelter from the searing heat.

In the jungle we saw very little wildlife at first.  I walked past everything until Sami told us how to really look for wildlife!  At one point I was walking along behind the guide with my head a little down.  I looked up just in time to see a giant spider about 5 inches away from my face.  It had spun its web right across our path and the 5 foot guide walking ahead of me had sailed right under it.  The spider’s body was about the size of a man’s thumb and its legs as large as a dinner plate.  It was immense!  For the next few hours my eyes were pealed for head-height spider webs.
We saw loads of small animals.  Lizards, bugs, butterflies, birds etc.  At one point we stopped to look at a weaver ants nest built of leaves when I felt something on my foot.  LEECH!  LEECH! LEEEEECH!  I saw a leech creeping its way into my sock.  I was terrified.  I wafted my hands at it with little effect.  Fortunately, the guide plucked it off for me and threw it away.

It was now that we all noticed that we had leeches stuck to our feet.  It had rained the night before and leeches were everywhere, and I mean everywhere.  They were bloody horrible!
I found two techniques for removing leeches.  The first is to scream and wave your arms like a mad man. An approach I found to be a highly unsuccessful.  The second is to take deep breaths and slowly pick them off.  It is very much a mind over matter thing!  But we had no choice.  We were stuck in the middle of leech hell with nowhere to go but forwards.  For the next three hours of walking we stopped every 10-30 seconds to pick leeches off our shoes, legs and feet.  The amount of leeches in that jungle was just unreal.
It took about 5 hours to get to camp.  We were so happy to arrive as it meant we could get our feet off the floor and away from the leeches.  We were almost too scared to take our boots off for fear of what we would see.  To no surprise we all had fat leeches stuck to our feet which we plucked off and threw away.  Nice!

Our room for the night was a hut with a floor raised 4 feet off the ground and no walls.  We slept in hammocks which we hung from the posts of our hut.  To protect us from the bugs our hammocks had built in mosquito nets that we could climb into: it was like lying in a giant banana skin. 

Whilst the guides were cooking dinner, Sami and I went out to explore the jungle.  Sami found all sort of bugs and stuff.  He was a mad man, turning over logs to see what would run out.  I’m not scared of bugs but I’m not a fan of them either so I left him to it

That night the guides cooked for us and we sat around eating, chatting and singing.  It was cool.  The noise of the jungle was almost deafening.  As Karl Pilkington said "it’s no wonder most of the animals in the jungle are nocturnal.  None of them can sleep with all the bloody noise". 

Throughout the evening we heard the distant rumbling of thunder and as day turned into night the rain started to fall.  This has the dramatic effect of immediately shutting up all the noisy animals in the jungle and the patter of the rain helped us to drift off to sleep.
The following day we treked through the jungle and into a large opening of grassland where we saw wild deer and giant hornbills.  The birds looked Jurassic and almost too large to fly.  It was a real highlight to see these birds in the wild.
The open grass land gave us a well deserved break from the leeches.  We trekked across it for about a mile until we hit jungle again.  We descended deeply through the jungle for about another hour until we hit more open grassland.  The grass was about 4 feet high at times and was quite beautiful.

We reached a dirt track and followed it on route to the waterfall.  By this time the sun was starting to cook us and our bags were feeling heavier and heavier.  The only thing that kept us going was the sight of the interesting and constantly evolving scenery; from deep grassland, to narrow valleys, to banana plantations and so on.  At one time we were passed by 6 motorbikes driven by Cambodians but each carrying a Chinese man on the back.  I am sure they were drug king pins visiting a secret base.  It seemed very odd.

By mid-day we made it to waterfall.  It was a stunning place.  The geology of the area was very similar to Giant’s Causeway with basalt columns rising out of the ground.  We dived in the water and swam around for ages.  I assumed I’d be scared to swim in water not knowing what was beneath but we were so hot we just threw ourselves in.

After lunch Leyla announced that it was all a little too much for her and she arranged for a motorbike to pick her up and take her back to camp.  In hindsight, I wish Sami and I did the same.  The remainder of the trek was a living hell.  We thought we would be walking back through the jungle but the guides decided otherwise.  We walked down a dirt track in the open sun for 16km track.  The heat was immense and we had no shelter from the sum whatsoever.  To make matters worse we were running low on water and what little water we did have was so hot it offered no refreshment and tasted horrible.  It was an absolute nightmare but a real test of resolve. 

With three hours of walking behind us we were nearly dying and getting desperate to reach the village.  As if by miracle, in the distance we saw an ice-cream sandwich seller’s bike propped up by the side of the road.  But the man was no where to be seen.  As we got closer he emerged from a behind a bush pulling up his pants.  He had clearly been for a number two.  Normally we would never order from a man who has just been to the toilet and not washed his hands but these were not normal times.  Despite the vendor’s shocking personal hygiene, these were probably the best sandwiches we have ever eaten.

Back in the village we ate lunch and received an invite to a Khmer wedding.  We were a little apprehensive about how we would be received but we really had nothing to fear.  The welcome we received was unbelievable.  Everyone wanted to speak to us, or dance with us, or force booze upon us.  It was great to see how Cambodians celebrate a wedding!  We slept like logs that night.
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